This page by Jon Kennedy    


    Christmases in Blacklick Valley


    Most memories of my Christmases while growing up are pretty sketchy. When I was a child, the season revolved largely around programs at the EUB Church (now Faith United Methodist) in Belsano. My “acting debut was there, the first Christmas we lived in greater Belsano, when I was five. I had a one-line part in the Christmas program. I was supposed to walk up on the platform from one end, say the line, and walk off the other end. But after saying my line, I turned to walk back whence I'd come, realized my mistake and said loudly enough for all to hear, “Whoops, the wrong way! and turned, now red as a beet, to make my proper exit. My brother Bob was home on furlough from the Air Force, and in the audience, which made it doubly embarrassing.

    The only other specific memory I have related to those programs, though they happened every year, was of walking all the way home from the church (over a mile) when I was about 12. It was after rehearsal, early in December, for the Christmas program, and there was a heavy snowfall on the ground. It was very Christmasy, but I was very blue, feeling sorry for myself for not getting any role bigger than a shepherd in the program! Tears burned my eyes as I thought how unjust it was of the powers at church to give the good parts to kids who seldom attended Sunday school while I, the most faithful, was virtually shunned. I revelled in my cry but knew all the while, too, how wrongheaded my thinking was. And I was walking because it took only a minute to rehearse the unspeaking shepherd's part so I was done long before everyone else.

    At Belsano School, fifth grade in the Blacklick Township High School building, and sixth through eighth grades in Twin Rocks, my main memory of Christmas is of Santa Claus coming under sponsorship of the United Mine Workers' local to give all the kids a Christmas treat. Some years it was a Christmas stocking of red netting like the orange bags of that era, filled with candy, gum, and little toys. Sometimes it was a box of candy, probably accompanied by an orange and a candy cane. The main candy in the stockings and boxes was what we called chocolate drops, bon-bon-shaped pieces of chocolate filled with a sweet white center that was probably little more than moistened confectioner's sugar. I didn't like them very well compared to other candies, but after decades of seeing none of them I'd give anything (figuratively, of course) for some Christmas chocolate drops.

    Also in those early years of my life, Christmas meant a Saturday morning at the Capitol Theater in Nanty Glo, for a “free show, also sponsored by the UMWA and probably Mr. Tom Bello and the Capitol. I think you had to be a miner's kid to be eligible for that, and sometimes treats were also given out there. Besides cartoons, the only show I remember being played on one of those occasions was Alexander's Ragtime Band. I thought it went on forever, was noisy, and wondered what it had to do with Christmas (nothing). Though for years any movie was a transcendent delight, I did almost hate that one! I also vaguely remember standing in line a long time at the Nanty Glo UMWA Hall to receive a treat from Santa Claus...no doubt my first visit to that hallowed building that would play such a large role in my later adolescence.

    I was always a great believer in Santa Claus (and still am, but that should be a topic of an essay in our Theophilus and Friends feature), and at age eight I made the transition from the “real to the myth with great ease and even joy, helped much by a story in the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry, the Christmas edition of which was given out free at school.

    As recounted elsewhere, by the time I was 15, my life was in Nanty Glo, first working as an usher at the Capitol, and then going to town every evening to hang out with my buds. The one Christmas that I was working at the Capitol is slightly memorable. I remember the prospect of working on Christmas eve and Christmas day and deciding, somewhat to my surprise, that that was okay. I didn't work Sundays (that was “against my religion”; I was the only usher in the history of the Capitol to whom Mr. Bello gave that indulgence), but I saw no problem with providing a service in the marketplace on the holiday. It wasn't like I would have no time for normal Christmas services and celebrating otherwise. It snowed Christmas week, and I remember walking the girl who worked in the ticket booth home, across town near St. Mary's Church, after work one night, probably because her parent or grandparent who usually came to give her a ride couldn't make it. Then it was back to Fred Edwards' Corner to stick out my thumb for my ride home!

    After my mother passed away in 1993, I inherited a Christmas present I'd given her 40 years earlier. It's a lazy Susan with five candy dishes, which I bought at the Ell and Gee Five and Ten. It's still a centerpiece of my family's Christmases. Christmases in Nanty Glo the town are memories of those bright colorful lightbulbs strung up and down both sides of the main shopping district (from Second Street up Chestnut to Roberts, and thence to Lloyd and perhaps beyond; I'm uncertain). Snow spurting down at times; piled high between the sidewalk and the street at others. Stores open late. A toy department at Levinson's, which normally didn't sell toys.

    In my teen years my main impression of Christmas in Nanty Glo is of hospitality. Nanty Glo families are still famous for their hospitality, and I remember hearing of “open houses” at certain peers' homes from Christmas eve through New Year's. I don't remember ever going to any of them...except maybe dropping in for a minute with Dick Millward or John Golias. I remember delectable Italian almond candies packaged in little boxes and wrapped in paper that you could eat...haven't seen any of those in many years.

    For the several Christmases that I was editor of the Nanty Glo Journal, my great fun was decorating the office windows with Christmas scenes, and playing Christmas music to the street from my stereo. Christmas “in” the paper was also a lot of fun, with the many greeting advertisements from all the merchants, Christmas news and stories.

    Besides my impression described elsewhere on this site about “O Little Town of Bethlehem” being Nanty Glo's carol, there's another Christmas song I associate with Nanty Glo. The first year I was working in New Jersey when I came home for Christmas, the most popular Christmas song on the radio was a new release by Paul Anka. It opened with the words, “Snowflakes falling down in every part of town,” and I think its title was “It's Christmas Everywhere.” It was one of the last of the perennial Christmas pop songs, and after that year I've never heard it again. But every Christmas it comes back to me, and it takes me back to that Christmas in Nanty Glo, circa 1965, and all my Christmases in Nanty Glo. I wrote an essay once about how It's a Wonderful Life reminds me of Nanty Glo in so many ways, and wish I could put my hands on it and post it here. It's a wonderful movie and I watch it every year, mainly to catch glimpses of Nanty Glo in the '40's and '50's.

    —Jon Kennedy



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